Packers Defense Could Be the Difference Against Rams

The No. 1 offense will face off against the No. 1 defense on Saturday, but this one could come down to how the Packers defense responds instead. 

Understandably, most of the conversation surrounding Saturday’s Divisional Round matchup at Lambeau Field will center around the No. 1 ranked Packers offense versus the No. 1 ranked Rams defense, and rightfully so. 

The Packers boast three first-team All-Pros on offense in quarterback Aaron Rodgers, receiver Davante Adams, and center Corey Linsley. The Rams have two first-team All-Pros on defense in lineman Aaron Donald and cornerback Jalen Ramsey. This matchup is going to be electric. 

While Green Bay has yet to face a defense quite like the Rams, Los Angeles has also yet to face an offense quite like the Packers. And because there’s so much intrigue in that matchup, much of this contest could actually come down to how the Packers defense matches up against the Rams offense. 

Let’s not forget about two second-team All-Pros on the Packers defense in edge rusher Za’Darius Smith and cornerback Jaire Alexander. If Green Bay is going to make a Super Bowl run, it’ll need the defense to be firing on all cylinders, too. 

This season, the Packers have only given up 300-plus passing yards to a quarterback one time, and that was against Deshaun Watson and the Texans in Week 7. What’s more, in Green Bay’s three combined losses, opponents averaged only 204.7 yards per game through the air. 

On the ground, though, is another story. Between the Buccaneers, Vikings, and Colts, the Packers gave up 471 yards rushing (or 157 yards per game) and five touchdowns. 

Now since the loss in Indianapolis, the Packers are on a six-game winning streak, but the run defense hasn’t necessarily improved statistically. In the first 10 games of the season, Green Bay gave up an average of 113.7 rushing yards on the ground per game. In the final six games, the Packers have given up 111.3 rushing yards per game. 

Then what’s changed? Well, turnovers tell a chunk of the story. Through the first 10 games of the season, the Packers forced only nine turnovers. In the last six games, Green Bay has also forced nine turnovers.

It’s possible Green Bay’s best defense on Saturday will be to get a lead early. This is not a Rams team that’s been good at playing from behind this season, which works to the defense’s advantage, too. If the Packers jump ahead early, it will also minimize LA's ability to run the football with Cam Akers, who’s looked impressive this last quarter of the season. 

If the game stays close and the Rams can get the ground game going like it did against Seattle in the Wild Card Round, it won’t matter who’s under center throwing the ball. On the night, the Rams had 43 rushing attempts for 164 yards and one score. 

The Packers defense can also make an impact in the red zone. Green Bay’s offense has an 80% success rate inside the red, or gold, zone this season, scoring touchdowns on 48 out of 60 trips (good for 1st in the NFL). Green Bay also ranks eighth overall in red zone defense. This is an area where the Rams struggle, turning only 33 of 57 red zone attempts into touchdowns for a 57.9% success rate. Even the Rams defense ranks 12th overall in the red zone, so what happens in the red/gold zone will be a huge indicator of the game’s outcome on Saturday. 

That strategy was evident for the Packers to close out the season at Soldier Field in Week 17. Despite holding the ball for 11 fewer minutes against Chicago, the Packers scored 35 points on only 44 plays. The Packers defense also held the Bears to 1-of-5 in the red zone, forcing them to kick field goals instead of touchdowns, which made the difference in the game. 

For LA, the Rams went 3-of-15 on third downs against Seattle in the Wild Card Round. Sustained drives on offense for the Packers and 3-and-outs on defense are critical, specifically against a Los Angeles defense that’s scored in five of its last seven games with four pick-sixes and one fumble returned for a touchdown. (The two games without Rams defensive scores? Losses to the Jets and Seattle in Weeks 15 and 16.)

The Packers will also need to get pressure on whoever is playing quarterback on Saturday. The Rams offensive line has only given up 25 sacks all season, which is close behind the 20 Rodgers took this year. The contrast, though, is that the Rams defense had 53 sacks on the year compared to Green Bay’s 41. That’s a significant discrepancy, and the Packers will need to lean on players like Smith (12.5 sacks this season) to bring consistent pressure when there are guys like Donald and Leonard Floyd on the other team’s defense who combined for 24 sacks in the regular season and 46 quarterback hits. Against Seattle, that duo added another four sacks and six QB hits.

Finally, remember those turnovers we talked about earlier? The Packers will need its playmakers to make plays in the Frozen Tundra to help put the game away. With the 31st ranked special teams unit in the NFL, field position is absolutely no gimme this weekend, especially in the cold. But, the Packers are +7 in turnover differential this season while the Rams are -3. If the Packers can protect the ball on offense and force a couple of turnovers on defense, that’ll be another huge key to success. 

The Divisional Round kicks off at Lambeau Field at 3:35 p.m. CT on Saturday. This one has all the makings of an instant classic in the Frozen Tundra. 

 

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Maggie Loney is a writer for Cheesehead TV and podcaster for the Pack-A-Day Podcast and Pack's What She Said. Find her on Twitter at @MaggieJLoney.

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Comments (37)

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FITZCORE1252's picture

January 12, 2021 at 12:27 pm

Call me crazy but I'm not overly concerned about this game, I just don't see the Rams scoring more than 17 points. I respect their D but we will get ours, I don't see them getting theirs. I think our D is going to make life rough for them.

Pack by double digits.

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Bearmeat's picture

January 12, 2021 at 01:58 pm

Agreed.

Also, good to see you post! Where the heck have you been? CHTV is a poorer place without your comments!

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FITZCORE1252's picture

January 12, 2021 at 04:38 pm

Thank you, Bearmeat! I've never stopped reading the articles here but the last few years I've kinda stayed away from the comment section... I think I got sick of Cow42 iirc. Haha

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Bearmeat's picture

January 12, 2021 at 04:46 pm

You know what, dude? Me too. I personally have about 5 "never-read" CHTV posters. I see the name and scroll right on bye... As CHTV has gotten bigger, I suppose that was inevitable.

Regardless, glad to see you post!

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JerseyAl's picture

January 12, 2021 at 06:34 pm

And this ^^^ is how you handle annoying (to you) commenters. It's pretty simple.

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dobber's picture

January 12, 2021 at 03:22 pm

I think the key will be taking care of the football. Packers must not turn the ball over, hand over defensive/ST scores, or give the Rams short fields. Akers got yards, but they were--um--not good offensively vs. Seattle even though they put up 30 points. Goff had a couple nice games this season, but I don't think he does it with a busted hand.

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jannes bjornson's picture

January 12, 2021 at 05:17 pm

Getting a grip on sp teams and full focus is critical.

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SterlingSharpe's picture

January 13, 2021 at 07:03 am

You're right. Turnovers. Rodgers just reminded us of how we lost to the Giants in 2011 as #1 seed. 3 fumbles, plus a breakdown on D that led to a Hail Mary to end the 1st half.

Our special teams is a constant worry too. Every punt or kickoff, our coverage units have proven they're capable of making the opponent look like Devin Hester or Desmond Howard, and our own returns are so bad the kicker intentionally makes us return it instead of touchbacks.

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jeremyjjbrown's picture

January 12, 2021 at 10:28 pm

Welcome back.

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NWPackersfan's picture

January 12, 2021 at 12:31 pm

So, watching film on the two games against the 6-10 49ers against the Rams should prove valuable given they beat the Rams both times with 2 different QB's. Those games may be the key to success for scheming against the Rams....just some thoughts. Go Packers.....

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ricky's picture

January 12, 2021 at 12:36 pm

The defensive line has to clog up the running lanes and maintain their assignment integrity. The LBers should be holding the edge and be aware of the QB trying to run outside if they don't. The Packers OL knows they are going to be facing some formidable challenges against the Rams, and they'll be ready. The addition of Veldheer for the SB push was great, adding veteran depth to areas that are a bit depleted at this point- Bakhtiari gone, and Wagner an injury risk.

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jannes bjornson's picture

January 12, 2021 at 05:19 pm

Could see a heavy front with Veldheer playing inline TE and Lewis on the other side.

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murf7777's picture

January 12, 2021 at 05:25 pm

That should be made easier with snacks in the line up. What a great pick up by Gutey.

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mnbadger's picture

January 12, 2021 at 12:38 pm

Packers/Rodgers convert one more time than the calves and win 23-19 in a slog with kickers being the leading scorers. I'm jacked! GPG

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Lphill's picture

January 12, 2021 at 12:40 pm

Packers have to expect the Rams to be run heavy , play them like the Titans and things should go the Packers way.

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Coldworld's picture

January 12, 2021 at 01:49 pm

With their health issues at QB, that should be exactly the recipe. We know we can do it against a better RB and a ( at least at present) better QB. We also need to learn the lesson to use Dillon and keep our D off the field.

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Guam's picture

January 12, 2021 at 03:12 pm

Agreed Lphill! A heavy dose of 3 DL with Snacks, Clark and Keke should be interesting to watch. We may yet develop a run defense.

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murf7777's picture

January 12, 2021 at 05:28 pm

If they can do it with snacks and Clark that would be better as it provides more coverage and speed in Catherine backend.

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Guam's picture

January 13, 2021 at 07:40 am

I am less concerned with a Goff led passing attack than I am with the Rams rushing attack. Akers is a good back and they have a quality O-line. I think the first mission is stopping the Ram's rushing attack and getting a lead. Then you switch to a 2 man DL when the Rams have to play catch up.

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dobber's picture

January 12, 2021 at 08:44 pm

I thought Keke would be back, but apparently he was a DNP in practice today and hasn't been cleared yet.

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x24's picture

January 12, 2021 at 01:45 pm

Could Snacks Harrison be an X factor against the run in this game? In the few snaps he played against the bears he drew 2 offensive lineman, something I've rarely seen with Lowery or Lancaster. If Harrison gets a few more snaps on Saturday, it will be interesting to see what effect it has on the rest of the D

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Guam's picture

January 12, 2021 at 03:09 pm

Not only Harrison, but Keke should be back from concussion protocol. The two of them will give the Packers a much different look than you saw last week against the Bears. A healthy Keke and a Snacks Harrison who will better understand Pettine's defense might give the Ram rushing attack some serious problems.

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jannes bjornson's picture

January 12, 2021 at 05:21 pm

Harrison on the nose gives Kenny Clark the freedom to roam three tech to five.

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Bearmeat's picture

January 12, 2021 at 01:57 pm

On paper at least:

GB's O = Rams D.
GBs D > Rams O.

If we don't turn it over, we win.

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gkarl's picture

January 12, 2021 at 02:05 pm

I'm not convinced LA can beat the Packers through the air. They kept the throws to a minimum against Seattle, to protect Goff's thumb one would assume. Take the run away early and make the Rams throw the ball.

On offense no TO's, we can score on anybody if we don't stop ourselves. Was rooting for a Colts lose this past weekend hoping Veldheer would be available to pick up. Great move, reliable backup tackle, makes me more confident in our OL.

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fansince1959's picture

January 12, 2021 at 02:50 pm

Hat's off to Gutey for realizing he needed to shore things up with Snacks and Veldheer

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BAMABADGER's picture

January 12, 2021 at 04:25 pm

Doesn't the Ram's D face a version of the Packer offense everyday they practice?

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jannes bjornson's picture

January 12, 2021 at 05:23 pm

Not Rodgers.

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Qoojo's picture

January 12, 2021 at 05:45 pm

If the packers offense and special teams can take care of the ball, I would think that the packers will load up against the run like vs Titans, then it's Goff's broken thumb in the cold, and that sounds like a win for the packers. The Packers have to monitor how the OL handles the Rams' DL.

Here's to no turnovers, don't get Rodgers injured, stop the run, and it should turn out good for the packers, unless Goff is some freak.

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Leatherhead's picture

January 12, 2021 at 07:02 pm

I think that from the very beginning of the Murphy-Gutekunst era, the plan has been to put a top offense on the field, executed by Aaron Rodgers, and they’ve done that. The free agent linemen we signed, a second round pick, Marcedes Lewis......all moves to put quality blockers on the field. Aaron Jones has benefited from this, too.

This is an offense that should score over 30, even in bad weather, even through injuries, even against good defenses. And it does. And it’s mostly going to be back next year.

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jeremyjjbrown's picture

January 12, 2021 at 10:32 pm

I like the picture of Gary. I have a feeling he makes a big play in this game. I just feel it coming. Soon he's going to hit a home run.

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89Chewy's picture

January 13, 2021 at 01:22 am

I'm already tired of hearing about how great the Rams D is. Is Donald and Ramsey the best at their positions this year? YES, but we have some damn good guys too in Kenny and Jaire, plus the Rams have zero offense. Snacks and Kenny will shut down the middle, the Smiths with contain the edge while bringing pressure and Jaire will eliminate half the field for them. Aaron is playing out of his mind this year and has a look about him i've never seen. This team is special! I agree with Nags, we need to see a lot of AJones and i think we will. Our running game will be the difference ala Bennett and Levens in '96. GPG!!!

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porupack's picture

January 13, 2021 at 05:53 am

Dismissing any team at anytime is an exercise of emotion management. Rams offense is very capable. Any team can come to any town, and lay it all on the line and win, especially if they have an underdog mentality. I expect Rams to do just that. Goff had a game last week, where he unexpectedly was thrown in the fire and did admirably, so he now has his rust rubbed off in live combat. He won't have any limitations, and frozen tundra impact on a california 'warm-weather team' is just wishful hopes. Cold weather impact on elite professionals is over hyped. If pros can tolerate big hits, they can deal with cold....especially with sideline heaters and handwarmers. Jeez, any real bloat that works outdoors shrugs off 10 degree weather.

Rams have the offense to get the job done, even though they aren't 'scary', they are very capable of putting up points. GB has a history of allowing career breakouts. The big question to Rams offense is if Cooper Kupp is not close to 100%. GB better come to play lights out, and lay it all on the line. I hope no after game comments like last year;, "we just weren't mentally up for the game" bullsht. Those statements last year, keep me skeptical until GB proves consistently that they are ready to ball from the opening kickoff.

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NickPerry's picture

January 13, 2021 at 05:55 am

Living in LA I've watched the Rams a few times since their games are always on. News Flash... This isn't the Rams offense of 2 or 3 years ago with Gurley and it's not even close. Ackers isn't Gurley and it's not even close. All week long leading up to the Titans AND the Bears all I heard about is Henry (rightfully so) and Montgomery (give me a break!) and what they'd do to this Packers run defense. The Packers played great games against the Titans and Bears and more less shut down Henry and Montgomery. I trust this defense against Can Ackers

Cam Ackers is another Florida State boy. Grew up in Mississippi, played 3 years at Florida State, and was drafted by a Dome team who plays in Los Angeles. Looking at the Rams schedule I'd say the coldest game he's played in as a pro was last weekend in Seattle when it was 46 degrees. Get ready for some pain Ackers.

Last thing.... Jarie Alexander has listen ALL WEEK to this crap about the great Jalen Ramsey. Ramsey is great, SO IS ALEXANDER!!!!!!!!!! Adams goes up against a top 2 or 3 CB in the NFL EVERY day in practice. Ramsey, you're getting taken to school!

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MarkinMadison's picture

January 13, 2021 at 07:10 am

I think those average rushing stats over the last six games underrepresent the improvement in the run defense. You have to factor in that Henry and Montgomery were two of those six opponents. You also have to factor in how little Snacks has played in that six-game run. This run defense is better than the stats tell you, and will be good enough to stone the Rams on Saturday.

I remember Farve playing an amazing game with a broken thumb. Goff is not Farve, but he will have had another week to try to get used to throwing the ball. If this game was in LA I'd give him a shot at having a good game. But the temperature will be around freezing at kickoff and it will go downhill from there. Plus the wind is forecast to be around 15 mph. I just don't think he will be consistent enough to move the chains on long drives.

Packers 24-16.

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croatpackfan's picture

January 13, 2021 at 08:48 am

I think there was many valid conclusions in the article. Only one missing that is not so obvious: If you score more points than opponent, you'll win the game!

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